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The Science Behind That Bad Gut Feeling for No Reason

Have you ever had a bad gut feeling for no reason? A sensation you can’t explain? Something you can’t put your finger on, yet sounds or feels right? 

It may come as an inner voice that completely opposes what your mind tells you is right. But how do you know if you should follow either this illogical sensation or what makes sense “on paper”, instead?  Or how do you know it’s not fear or anxiety speaking? 

Let’s look closely into the science behind the gut feeling, or what scientists tend to refer to as intuition derived from the unconscious.


If you take into consideration Freud’s psychoanalytic theories about the unconscious mind, you could easily compare the unconscious mind to an overprotective parent that stores most of the information you acquire, selecting the most simplistic information for the conscious mind.

The unconscious mind is always trying to protect you from emotional pain, but sometimes this information escapes via dreams, or what others would debate as premonitions or God speaking. This is how you may find answers to some of your inquiries during your dreams, or why sensations or perceptions play themselves while you sleep.

However, be careful to rule out every dream as intuition, because if you repress emotions or desires, this is also the place where they exert themselves. After all, they’ve got to come out somehow! The psyche is a very sneaky and mysterious entity.

Social and Cognitive Psychology

In a very similar way, theories in Social and Cognitive Psychology state that the unconscious mind is a lot more attentive than the conscious mind, therefore stores a lot more information. It “catches” clues that you can’t consciously grasp.

By enacting some experiments, these sciences empirically proved that Freud’s questionable theories do have some truth in them.

With Artificial Grammar Learning, participants were told to learn random strings of letters. After they memorized these strings of letters, they were told that these strings followed grammatical rules.

Even though these grammatical rules were never taught, the participants in the study could properly categorize them in two. Those that were grammatically correct, and those that weren’t. How were they able to do that?

This only indicates that the human brain can detect complex patterns unconsciously

So far we have learned that our unconscious can:

  1. Store exclusive information from the conscious mind.
  2. Decipher complex hidden patterns.

Does it mean that perhaps these impulsive and automatic perceptions may be wiser than a deliberate analysis? And as so, there is no such thing as a bad gut feeling for no reason?

Analytic Psychology

On the other hand, Carl Jung, founder of Analytic Psychology, was a firm believer that we are all governed by one of 4 main psychological functions, which are thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. In that manner, people whose main function is intuition, have strong “irrational” perceptions that guide their actions.

According to Jung, intuitive people are a lot more “on point” when perceiving energies from the exterior world and listening to their inner voice.

These people just grasp reality differently.

Their perception is governed by an unconscious, and very vivid sensation. For instance, one of his patients described her gut feeling as a “black snake coiled up in the bottom of her abdomen.”

There’s one thing I consider important to point out though. We all have intuitive abilities. It simply comes much easier to some, rather than to most. But like every personality trait, it is something that can be nurtured. It’s about learning to listen to that inner voice.

Now let’s explore intuition within the brain and its relationship with having what may initially seem a gut feeling for no reason.

Cognitive Neuropsychology

According to neuropsychologists, intuition is directly associated with the right side of the brain. Au contraire to the left hemisphere, this side of the brain does not operate on words. It works in an analog manner, and as such, it’s guided by purely hunches or sensations.

Intuition also draws from the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain in charge of storing information. Intuition derives its sensations from quickly retrieving information from this archive of stored data. In that sense, intuitive decisions are based on information recollected all our lives.

Is this telling us that perhaps a conscious and deliberate debate when making important decisions is not necessary? Your unconscious has already (automatically) done it for you. Additionally, when your unconscious starts to detect important information that you can’t fully understand, the body starts firing neurochemicals in both the brain and gut.


Bad gut feeling for no reason

Studies within Neurogastroentorology indicate that the digestive tract has a separate and autonomous nervous system called the Enteric Nervous System. It is considered the “second” brain because:

• It controls gut behavior independently.
This means it doesn’t need any help from the Central Nervous System to digest food.

• It has an entire network of neurotransmitters also found in the CNS.
This is indicating us that those queasy sensations are actually enacted by your second brain within your gut — a mind of its own!

• It is interconnected with CNS and is in constant communication with it. If I perceive something throughout the right side of the brain, it automatically communicates it to the gut, ergo the “gut feeling”? 

Should I then, perhaps, listen to this gut feeling because it’s telling me something my conscious mind can’t tell me?

Bad gut feeling for no reason?

Whenever you feel anxiety, mixed signals, discomfort, sleepless nights, or an upset stomach (gut feeling), then perhaps the path you’ve chosen is the wrong one.

Now, you may confuse gut feeling with fear. Because fear comes as a way to alert you that something is not quite right —so does the gut feeling. The main difference though is that fear comes from trauma, whereas intuition is a voice developed by the unconscious. The best way to find out is by aiming for a relaxed state of mind.


A girl meditating to unveil that bad gut feeling for no reason

Clarity rarely comes when the mind is busy. It comes when the mind is quiet and still. That said, meditation leads you to a relaxed state that allows you to distinguish intuition from basic emotions such as fear or self-doubt. It helps you successfully connect with the unconscious.

It’s widely known that meditation tends to have a religious connotation; most religions encompass some sort of meditation. This is because when you meditate you get to achieve such high levels of awareness that you can get in touch with some sort of ‘inner force’.

Christians attribute this inner force to the Holy Spirit, scientists say it’s the unconscious mind, and Buddhists say it’s reaching “Enlightenment.” In this case, we call it intuition, or gut feeling. Either way you want to call it, this inner voice tends to be very wise. After all, we’ve all read about the power of the unconscious!

If you decide that meditation is not for you, you can always find alternatives to achieve a relaxed state.

Any activity that could help you stop the incessant chatter of the mind shall do the trick. Once you can quiet the mind, you leave room for the “inner force” to come out. In these moments of peace, you can come across very powerful “aha moments”.

Carl Jung's mandala: therapeutic method to decipher that bad gut feeling for no reason

This is how certain practices are considered therapeutic. It can be contemplating the beautiful scenery on a beach, or simply putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Carl Jung used mandalas. It’s up to you to find what’s relaxing enough that will help you develop this inner voice.

Follow your heart

Decisions based on intuition tend to be naturally generous and empathic, and they don’t necessarily follow materialistic impulses such as money-making or egoistical purposes. There is no right or wrong when making decisions, and it is defined on what a person internally considers as valuable and not what the mind tells you to be more convenient or logical.

There is no research data correlating intuition and generosity, yet it makes you wonder that perhaps decisions based on generosity could possibly generate outcomes that could translate into individual and general well-being. After all, research has told us that the unconscious mind is always looking for secretive ways to protect our conscious mind.

Love will always be the answer

Your intuition will always lead you to unselfishness and love. Intuition blooms with compassion, but mostly when you learn to appreciate yourself and others with no judgment.  The peace that comes from love and compassion allows you to connect with your deep Self, or in other words, with your intuition.

According to Eckhart Tolle, the best way to become in touch with that inner force is by observing the emotion, without letting yourself be controlled by it. As soon as you become “the watcher”, you connect with your intuition, and you soon realize that there is no such thing as bad gut feeling for no reason.

 If you really want to know your mind, the body will always give you a truthful reflection, so look at the emotion or rather feel it in your body. If there is an apparent conflict between them, the thought will be the lie, the emotion will be the truth.

Eckhart tolle

How can you strengthen your intuition?

A study on how top executives use intuition established that top executives consider intuition to be an important and reliable tool for their decision-making. They all expressed an upset stomach (gut feeling) when they sensed that an imminent decision may be wrong.

Techniques top executives regularly practice to improve intuitive decision making

Relaxation techniques Analytic techniques
Give yourself some time for your mind to unconsciously “grasp all alternatives.
Brainstorm with yourself by allowing intuition to generate alternatives.

Listen to your inner self when relaxed.
Look for patterns when none seem to exist.
Pray and read scripture,
depending on your beliefs.
Read about philosophy and philosophy of science.

Keep in good physical shape.
 Stay open and flexible

Keep a journal.
Organize information in diagrams (mind mapping).
 Do fasting once a month.
Keep a notepad nearby (can be cellphone’s notepad) to record spontaneous insights.

To sum up…

Intuition is knowing without having a logical explanation. It’s a feeling derived from the knowledge within —knowledge acquired through experience.

Revolutionaries such as Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Oprah Winfrey have attributed their success to their intuition. According to Steve Jobs, “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect.”

Considering all this, intuition is powerful because it’s the voice of the unconscious, and the unconscious mind has proven to be a lot more powerful than the conscious mind. It processes information in the blink of an eye and sees a lot further than the conscious mind can grasp.

So, next time your intuition is nudging you towards a path, will you trust it, or will you question it?

For more insights about intuition, download our eBook, The Psychology of Intuition. Within these pages, we delve into the scientific underpinnings behind the gut feeling, providing valuable insights on how you can nurture and trust this powerful aspect within your psyche.

Sneak Peek of the book!: The Psychology of Intuition: The Human Mind and Intuition

If you liked our article, Bad Gut Feeling for No Reason, you will like:

Intuition is the Highest Form of Intelligence
The Psychology of Intuition: Ebook
8 Ways on How to Be More Intuitive
Trusting Your Gut Feeling About Someone
Unraveling the Origins: Where Does Intuition Come From?
How Accurate is Intuition?
Best Quotes About Intuition
How to Listen to Your Intuition in Relationships: 7 Insightful Tips
12 Signs You’re an Intuitive Person
Carl Jung’s Insights on Intuition
Is it Anxiety or Intuition?

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Sarah Peláez is a Clinical Psychologist, Learning Therapist, and author of “The Psychology of Intuition.”

How to reference this article

Pelaez.S (2020). Bad gut feeling for no reason PsycheSpot https://www.psychespot.com/mental-awareness/bad-gut-feeling-for-no-reason/

APA style references

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Cattini, C. (1 de September de 2017). Thought for food blog. Obtained from Thought for food blog: https://www.ifis.org/blog/gut-microbiota-mental-health

Evans, R. I., Jung, C. G., & Jones, E. (1964). Conversations with Carl [Gustav] Jung and reactions from Ernest Jones (Vol. 23). Princeton, NJ, Van Nostrand.

Freud, S. (1915). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.

Hogarth, R.M (2003). Educating Intuition: A challenge for the 21st century. Centre de Recerca en Economia internacional, 1-28.

Jung, C. G. (2017). Mandala Symbolism:(From Vol. 9i Collected Works). Princeton University Press.

Koch, C. (2015). Intuition may reveal where expertise resides in the brain. Scientific American, 25-26.

Lammers, A. C. (2016). The Jung-Kirsch Letters: The Correspondence of CG Jung and James Kirsch. Routledge.

Lieberman, M. D. (2000). Intuition: a social cognitive neuroscience approach. Psychological bulletin, 126(1), 109.

Seger, C. A. (1994). Implicit learning. Psychological bulletin, 115(2), 163.

Sonnenburg, E. (may 1, 2015). Scientific American. Obtained from Scientific American:https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-feelings-the-second-brain-in-our-gastrointestinal-systems-excerpt/

Tolle, E. (2004). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. New World Library.

Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and Western psychology: a mutually enriching dialogue. American psychologist, 61(3), 227.

If you liked our article Gut feeling for no Reason, you will sure like our article, Serendipity Meaning.


Unraveling the Origins: Where Does Intuition Come From?


The Psychology of Intuition: The Human Mind and Intuition


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